Explosion in Beirut linked to a Russian vessel storing ammonium nitrate left in the port, called a “floating bomb”

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Investigators investigating the devastating explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 people and injured 5,000 others point to a Russian ship that has been docked in the city’s port for nearly seven years without proper safety precautions officials have taken. warned that it was a “floating bomb”.

The Russian ship, named MV Rhosus, carrying agricultural fertilizer containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate and en route to Mozambique hit a financial problem and docked in the port of Beruit in 2013, according to legal documents and Lebanese officials , reported the Washington Post.

Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher has repeatedly sent letters to justice over the years and warned that the cargo was the equivalent of a “floating bomb”, but warnings went unheeded .

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Rescuers search for victims at the scene of Tuesday’s massive explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, August 6, 2020 (AP Photo / Hussein Malla)

Daher has repeatedly asked officials to remove ammonium nitrate from the port because it posed a significant explosion risk, he said in an interview with LBC TV on Wednesday evening.

Daher said reporting the risks to the authorities was “extra work” for him and his predecessors outside of his responsibility to prevent smuggling and collect fees.

He says it was the port authority’s job to monitor the material and store it properly.

The Russian vessel was detained in port after reporting “technical problems” and inspectors banned it from sailing.

“Due to the risks associated with the retention of the ammonium nitrate on board the ship, the port authorities unloaded the cargo in the port warehouses,” wrote lawyers acting on behalf of the creditors in 2015, according to the Post. “The vessel and cargo remain to this day in port pending auction and / or proper disposal. ”

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Lawyers said the ship was abandoned by its owners after running out of supplies and the crew ultimately had to be repatriated to Russia due to immigration restrictions on an extended stay in Beirut.

Tuesday’s explosion, which appeared to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate, passed through the Lebanese capital, causing widespread destruction.

Losses from the blast are estimated at between $ 10 billion and $ 15 billion, Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told Saudi broadcaster Al-Hadath on Wednesday, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless.

Lebanese army soldiers stand guard at the scene where an explosion hit the port of Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday, August 6, 2020 (AP Photo / Hussein Malla)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun vowed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the investigation would be transparent and those responsible would be punished.

The cabinet has ordered the house arrest of an unknown number of officials at the Port of Beirut pending an investigation into how ammonium nitrate has been stored at the port for years. The government also declared a two-week state of emergency, effectively giving the military full powers during that time.

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Investigators are also reflecting on another theory: The fire started when welders attempted to repair a broken door and a hole in the wall of Hangar 12, where explosive material was stored. According to local media, the repair work was ordered by security forces who investigated the facility and feared theft.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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